Capitalism, Free Enterprise And Progress: Partners Or Adversaries?

By Darian Worden. The Industrial Revolution is typically regarded as a story of capitalism, free enterprise, and progress in technology and living standards. This paper attempts to disentangle the threads of capitalism, free enterprise, and progress, in the context of the Industrial Revolution, with a focus on Britain and the United States. It aims to bring some historical perspectives into the current discourse.

This paper will explore the nature of progress, the controversy of living standards, the coercion that existed at the birth of the industrial revolution, and potential alternative points of departure for historical progress. What is the relation between capitalism, free enterprise, and progress? Who benefited from them? Was the specific form that industrialism took the most beneficial of plausible alternatives?

Capitalism, free enterprise, and technological and social progress need to be unbundled from the package idea of the Industrial Revolution. A rough definition of capitalism for this purpose would be:

a social system typified by 1) the control of workplaces by owners who are not laborers in the firm, 2) the direction of work to profit these owners, and 3) social hierarchies produced by these economic relations. Free enterprise could be defined as: a state of affairs in which goods and services are produced and exchanged according to consensual agreements between producers and traders. Technological and social progress means: The improvement of general living conditions and the advance of technology.

Of course all of these definitions are themselves at least somewhat contentious. Capitalism has a number of definitions, and some would contend that the mere accumulation of capital implies or even necessitates a certain social relationship. Free enterprise is also problematic. It suggests either “relatively free enterprise,” some kind of gradation, or an abstraction that is useful as a model but not fully achievable. And determining whether specific examples of activity do or do not constitute free enterprise can also be tricky. The relationship between technological progress and social progress is not always so clear, as will be shown below. But the concepts are sufficiently clear for a useful study.


The Enlightenment was a historical movement well suited to foster a culture of innovation. Enlightenment principles can be characterized by a belief in reason, and an emphasis on human capability and earthly dignity. These principles combined with the printing press and the fracturing of religious and political authority accelerated the progress of science and ethics in Western Europe.


It is of prime importance to examine the political context in which a socio-economic system operates. If the market functions on “higgling and bargaining” and coercion exerts significant pressure on the “higgiling and bargaining,” then is the term “free market” really appropriate? And how free is enterprise in such a market?

British industrialization took place at a time in which the rulers of Europe were terrified of the French Revolution, an event whose proclamation of liberty, equality, and fraternity resonated widely among individuals who labored under the old order. Because access to land and resources was distributed according to political privilege and not occupancy and use, the masters of the productive process were able to prevent industrial and agricultural labor from living autonomous and prosperous lives.

E.P. Thompson, in his classic text The Making of the English Working Class, characterizes the years 1760 to 1820 as “years of wholesale enclosure, in which, in village after village, common rights are lost, and the landless and – in the south – pauperized labourer is left to support the tenant-farmer, the landowner, and the tithes of the Church.” Enclosure of the commons severely restricted opportunities for personal autonomy, creating a more controllable workforce. This phenomenon was not unrecognized at the time. An article in Commercial and Agrictultural Magazine in the year 1800 cautioned against distributing too much land to the laborer because,

When a labourer becomes possessed of more land than he and his family can cultivate in the evenings… the farmer can no longer depend on him for constant work…

Possessing the means of subsistence could “transform the labourer into a petty farmer; from the most beneficial to the most useless of all the applications of industry.” Though this primarily concerns agricultural, not industrial workers, the principle remains that potential employees who are well off will likely demand more compensation for their labor than those who have few other options.

The worker’s options were further restricted by legal inequities. At a time when combination acts targeted trade unions and reform organizations, large manufactures colluded with each other to cut off the power of exit from the workers‟ bargaining chips.

Such a state of affairs did not pass without resistance. Reform societies sprung up to agitate for more liberty for commoners. Jacobins and other radicals circulated subversive literature, including the works of Thomas Paine. An influential book was Volney’s Ruins of Empire, excerpts of which were circulated as a Jacobin tract during the 1790s. Ruins contains a segment dividing society among two classes of people. The majority of people “by useful labours contribute to the support and maintenance of society.”

They were “labourers, artisans, tradesmen, and every profession useful to society,” and they were exploited by “a petty group, a valueless fraction,” who were “none but priests, courtiers, public accountants, commanders of troops, in short, the civil, military, or religious agents of government.”

The state resorted to all sorts of measures to suppress radical threats to the established order. E.P. Thompson describes legal decrees breaking up reform societies, police spies, executions, and paying of mobs to terrorize reformers. Despite the repression, they continued to hold widespread public support and were admired at their trials.

Industrialization emerged from a context of coercion and social conflict.

The Standard of Living Controversy

Although industrialization resulted in a tremendous increase in aggregate wealth, the benefits did not immediately reach those on the bottom of the social hierarchy. Technological improvement should lead to widespread improvements in the quality of life. However, the social structure of capitalism impeded the general improvement in living conditions.

Evidence of unequal benefits is seen in Robert Fogel‟s study, The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100. In his examination of statistics of height, mortality, and nutrition, he concludes that the great advances of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries “brought only modest and uneven improvements in the health, nutritional status, and longevity of the lower classes before 1890.” An example of his findings is that:

Data on life expectancy in Great Britain reveal that although the life expectancy of the lower classes remained constant or declined in some localities during much of the nineteenth century, the life expectancy of the upper classes rose quite sharply. From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the end of the nineteenth century, the gap in life expectancy between the upper and lower classes increased by about 10 years.

Clearly the benefits of industrialization did not reach all the English people equally. As shown by examining the extensive political conflict and regime of coercion, such inequality was not a given, but a consequence of choice.

The influence of increased population density and migration on disease could be noted to explain the lack of longevity increase. But this is just another way of saying that the living conditions of the poor tended to be dangerous and unsanitary. The elimination of laboring in rural commons as a viable option meant that more people would be exposed to these conditions with less ability to improve them.

By the start of the twentieth century, longevity began to increase. By this time labor movements, increased social consciousness and valuation of production over command, a gradual accumulation of capital in lower classes, returns on previous investments in health and medicine, mutual aid organizations (including friendly societies), and accessible technological improvements allowed the benefits of industrialization to reach the lower classes to a greater extent.

It is also necessary to consider the subjective nature of living standards. Even if the factory worker could afford to consume more calories and work fewer hours than his ancestors who were agricultural workers, he might prefer working in the fresh air without foremen and stopwatches. However, the onslaught of the land monopoly and the brutal suppression of working class combination made this a less viable option.

While industrialization eventually raised living standards, it took many years for the benefits to reach those who were forced to the bottom of the social hierarchy.

Capitalism Versus Free Exchange

Capitalism as a social relation can be characterized as a parasite on free exchange and scientific progress as they emerged from under the domination of state and church, a cause of distorting technological change to serve the ends of economic and political domination, and an obstacle that prevented the benefits of production from reaching everyone as evenly as they would in a comparatively undistorted free market.

John Thelwall, a prominent English Jacobin, denounced laws against the association of workers, as well as the “land monopoly,” enclosures, and “accumulation of capital,” declaring that “a small quantity of labour would be sufficient to supply necessaries and comforts, if property was well distributed.” He envisioned a society based on independent manufacturers, smallholders, and small traders, in which there existed protections for laborers.7 (It would be interesting to examine the extent to which combination acts prevented the rise of co-operative business organization as an egalitarian method of scaling up independent artisan enterprises to better compete with capitalist industry.)

Because coercion left workers with few means of subsistence besides hiring out their labor for long hours, they were unable to compete against the privileged. The closing of opportunities to labor worked to the advantage of the capitalist. In order to reclaim the ability to engage in some measure of free enterprise themselves, workers had to limit the control of capitalists; in other words they had to stifle the advance of capitalism. Because investments in new technology were made by the wealthy, research and implementation of new technology largely responded to the demands of the wealthy and prioritized profitability for owners over improved labor conditions.

Alternative Points of Departure for the Course of History

While it is difficult to make convincing counterfactual arguments, it is useful to discuss other possible courses of history in order to undermine arguments of historical necessity and demonstrate the relevance of the historical experience to current critiques of capitalist society.

The suppression of anti-scientific superstition and the enhancement of individual sovereignty could have provided incentives to labor freely for a better world. The technology and production methods produced by a free society would have been produced in a cultural atmosphere of comparative solidarity and an economic atmosphere of comparative egalitarianism. Instead of serfdom, starvation, and dark satanic mills, the worker could have produced in a freer workplace and lived in a freer society. A more equal rise in living standards combined with the more widespread investment in resources could have brought environmental concerns to prominence earlier.

Commercial customs involving pre-industrial craftsmen reveal a preference for fairness and quality. E.P. Thompson describes how wages were regulated by local custom. The social prestige of the worker or notions of fair prices, just wages, or standards of craftsmanship influenced prices. Profit and value was not measured only in monetary units. However, this state of affairs should not be idealized: Custom and guild associations created social hierarchies and cartelization by artisans, entrenching the privilege of some workers and limiting the mobility of others.

But customs in pre-industrial society are valuable as alternative points of departure, as the basis for a direction of improvement, instead of an inconvenience to be replaced with more brutal hierarchy. The rise of capitalism didn‟t destroy a free market, but it prevented one from emerging.

Political revolutions suppressed or recuperated by authoritarian elements in Europe and the United States during the period of industrialization failed to firmly establish the liberty that could have resulted in a more egalitarian technological flourishing. While libertarian and egalitarian ideas were developing during the period of industrialization, various elites managed to keep control of society and continue its operation along hierarchical and authoritarian lines.

An emphasis on liberty, equality, and fraternity, which was popular in radicalism of the period, would have been beneficial to the commons had they been allowed to take root. In her article “Reformulating the Commons,” Elinor Ostrom lists a series of factors that increase the likelihood of successful self-governing of commons by their users. Among these are trust and reciprocity among appropriators, and autonomy from external authorities. The prevalence of radical ideology could have increased trust and decreased enforcement costs, thus increasing the feasibility of self-governing commons with a minimal amount of hierarchy. Agriculture could then have been under stable control by laborers, benefitting food production, increasing the options for laborers, and enhancing the ability of workers to accumulate capital. But as it happened, the commons were stolen, laborers were left with little land, and the authoritarian political structure of the day would have regarded cooperative associations with suspicion at the very least.

Applicability to Modern Times

A disentangling of the threads of capitalism, free enterprise, and technological and social progress enables one to better separate good and ill in history. A lot of the evil that people endured for the goods delivered by technology was not necessary to suffer. This opens questions about industrialization in the abstract, as well as the direction of technology. Another area that could be examined is the improvement of agricultural techniques in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the extent to which monopoly prevented its gains from reaching most people.

Finding alternative points of departure in the voluntary associations and common customs of history can lead to an improved ability to find alternative points of departure in today’s associations and customs that can lead to a future of greater freedom.

Prosperity and progress did not require privilege. A sacrifice in living standards accompanied a sacrifice in freedom, and standards and freedom rose as the power of the master classes was upset and the benefits of technological progress were made more accessible.


  1. Carson, Kevin. Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. Charleston, South Carolina: BookSurge Publishing, 2007)
  2. Fogel, Robert. The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  3. Long, Roderick. “Medical Insurance That Worked – Until Government ‘Fixed’ It.” Formulations, Winter 1993.
  4. Ostrom, Elinor. “Reformulating the Commons.”
  5. Thompson, E.P. The Making of the English Working Class. New York: Vintage Books, 1963.

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Can We Really Blame Sociopaths?

By David Swanson. I’ve been hearing increasingly from multiple quarters that the root of our problems is psychopaths and sociopaths and other loosely defined but definitely different beings from ourselves.  Rob Kall has produced a quite interesting series of articles and interviews on the subject.

I want to offer some words of caution if not respectful dissent.  I don’t think the “because chickenhawks” dissent found, for example, in John Horgan’s “The End of War” is sufficient.  That is to say, just because a politician doesn’t want to do the killing himself or herself doesn’t mean the decision to order killing in war, or in prison, or through poverty and lack of healthcare, or through climate change, isn’t heartless and calculating.  Psychopaths could be running our world from behind desks.

But are they?

When I look at national politicians in the United States — presidents and Congress members — I can’t identify any meaningful place to draw a line such that sociopaths would be on one side and healthy people on the other.  They all bow, to one degree or another, to corrupt influences.  They all make bad compromises.  There are differences in both policy positions and personal manners, but the differences are slight and spread along a continuum.  They all fund the largest killing machine in history.  The Progressive Caucus budget proposes slight increases in military spending, already at 57% of the discretionary budget.  Some support wars on “humanitarian” and others on genocidal grounds, but the wars look the same from the receiving end either way.

The slightly better Congress members come from slightly better districts, have taken slightly less money, and begin with slightly more enlightened ideologies.  Or at least that’s true much of the time on many issues.  Often, however, what makes the difference is personal experience.  Senator Diane Feinstein supports warrantless spying on everyone else, but objects when it’s turned against her.  Six years ago, Congressman Mike McNulty said he was voting against war funding because his brother had been killed in Vietnam.  Weren’t four million people killed there? Didn’t many of them have brothers and sisters and other loved ones?  Shouldn’t we oppose mass murder even if nobody in our immediate family has died from mass murder?  In Washington, no one is ashamed to explain their positions by their personal experiences; on the contrary, such rationales are deemed highly admirable — and not just among a certain group who stand apart as the sociopaths.

The spectrum of morality in our elected officials ranges from those who often indicate their concern and their desire to help if their own careers won’t suffer in any way, to those who take tentative stands for peace or justice if their own family is impacted, to those who talk a good line and always act against it, and all the way over to those who don’t even put up a pretense.  But all of this is within a culture where we routinely discuss the supposed need to “humanize” humans.  That is to say, we teach each other that foreigners are made more human when we see their photos and learn their names and stories and the stories of their loved ones in some trivial detail — as if we are supposed to imagine that people don’t have names or quirks or loved ones until we get a specific account of those things.

When it was revealed that a bunch of TV news guest experts on war were actually getting their talking points from the Pentagon, there was no way to watch the videos and distinguish the corrupt pundits from the truly independent ones.  They all talked the same.  The mercenary fraudsters fit right in.  It’s the same with any sociopaths in Congress.  They may be there, but how could one possibly spot the difference?

Kall raises the question of why people enjoy watching shows about sociopaths such as “House of Cards,” and speculates that people admire sociopaths’ ability to stay calm in crises, to express confidence, to project charisma, and to dominate and manipulate others.  That’s probably right.  And such shows spread sociopathy by example.  But there’s also the function such shows serve of explaining (accurately or not) why our government is so bad.  There’s also the joy of hoping against hope that Vice President Underwood will land in prison where so many of his real-life colleagues belong.  But watch the real-life “journalists” playing themselves on fictional TV interviews in these shows. They clearly don’t imagine themselves as having any value that can be lost by such charades.  Watch the advertisements for which many TV shows are filler, and you’ll see politicians routinely describing their opponents as behaving sociopathically.

Some experts believe sociopaths make the best CEOs of large corporations.  Everybody else recognizes that the CEOs of large corporations are given incentives to behave immorally, regardless of whether it impacts them emotionally in a typical manner or not.  Also encouraged to behave immorally are presidents and Congress members.

Well-designed governments encourage good behavior and bar against the potential for evil.  They treat 100% — not 2% or 10% or 80% — of elected officials as potential psychopaths.  Elections are made open and verifiable.  Bribery is forbidden.  Powers are checked and balanced.  Abuses are exposed and punished.  Secrecy is curtailed and openness required.  War powers are placed in a legislature or the public, or war abolished.  Standing armies are disbanded.  Profiteering and other conflicts of interest are avoided.  Adversarial journalism is encouraged.  Our government, in contrast, treats every elected official as a saint capable of overcoming all kinds of bribery and pressure to misbehave, while our culture encourages them and the rest of us to be anything but.

Many agree that we should reform our government, but is something else needed to handle the threat of sociopaths, in public and private life alike? Kall wants sociopaths to be identified and prevented from doing damage.  He wants them treated as alleged sex offenders are, despite the horrible failings of that approach and the much greater difficulty in identifying who is and who is not a sociopath.  Kall goes further, suggesting sterilization.  He writes that he would have happily shot and killed Nazis; and in the next breath lists billionaire Americans he considers parasites — later reassuring us that he doesn’t want to kill them.

The identification process is not clear cut.  Sociopathy seems to be something of a matter of degree, with some small degree reaching all of us.  We allowed our government to destroy Iraq, killing some million people and making millions more refugees, and we talk about that war in terms of how many Americans were killed and how many dollars it cost, as if Iraq doesn’t matter at all.  Or we talk about the military investment that will generate more wars as if it were a jobs program.  That behavior looks like sociopathy to others.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the quintessential non-sociopath on Capitol Hill, the one member who voted against launching the past dozen years of wars.  But I was once in a room with her and other progressive members of Congress, relatively early in the Bush-Cheney rampage, proposing that impeachment be begun. Congresswoman Maxine Waters proposed opening an effort to impeach Vice President Cheney.  Excitement gripped us.  For an instant a few of us could imagine Congress pushing back against the lawlessness that has rolled on unimpeded to this day. And then Congresswoman Lee spoke up and said nobody had better do anything without getting approval from John Conyers.  And that was that.  Not sociopathy. But not pure principled morality either.

Studying the phenomenon of extreme cases at the other end of the spectrum from Rep. Lee is certainly desirable.  What makes John McCain or Hillary Clinton tick?  How could Dick Cheney contemplate ordering Americans to attack each other in the Straight of Hormuz in order to blame it on Iran and start a war?  How could George W. Bush laugh off his lies about Iraq and claim it didn’t matter?  How could he proudly declare he would waterboard people again if given the chance?  How could Barack Obama go to Copenhagen and intentionally and maliciously block any serious agreement to confront climate change?  How could he pretend to know that Gadaffi was going to slaughter Benghazians or that Assad used chemical weapons, when evidence has emerged that he couldn’t possibly have known any such things?

But if there have always been sociopaths everywhere, why are some societies doing more evil than others?  Has the 95% of humanity that is currently investing dramatically less in war than the United States, identified and controlled its sociopaths? Or have they, rather, created less evil paths to power and influence? If a sociopath wants power and influence, why not give him or her a system in which good behavior is rewarded? In 1928 Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, who cared not a damn for peace, worked night and day for the peace treaty known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact because he saw rewards in that direction and told his wife he might get himself a Nobel Peace Prize. Had power lain in the direction of war-making, that’s the direction Kellogg would have headed. If sociopaths make great propagandists, why not train better critical thinkers to see through the lies? Mentally healthy or not, our Congress members are holding off on bombing Syria or Iran because we’ve rejected the idea that doing so would improve things.

There is a danger, I think, in focusing on sociopaths’ existence as the problem, of developing a cure as bad as the disease.  Identifying a group of people to be targeted for discrimination, eugenics, imprisonment, or death seems like the habit of a culture that is itself more of a problem than are the genes of a small minority within it likely to be.  What kind of a culture would produce such an idea?  A sick one, I believe.

I agree with Kall that billionaires can be identified and their billions re-claimed.  Excellent proposal!  But not every immoral decider is a billionaire.  Nor do I find it likely that every politician who promotes some evil practice can be diagnosed as a sociopath or psychopath.  Wouldn’t it be easier to identify evil politicians by their evil deeds?  What would be gained by identifying them instead as the sort of people likely to do something evil, and giving that category of people a scientific name?  If an elected official fails to protect the environment, fails to advance peace and justice, fails to deal honestly and fairly with the people, he or she should be held accountable.  If recognizing that such a person’s emotions may not be functioning like ours helps us to reach them with our demands, terrific.  But if it prevents us from reaching their emotions in a way that we might have, and from communicating our views more widely in the process, then it’s hurting the cause of justice.

It’s not as if we can’t recognize the sociopaths coming.  Molly Ivins warned us about Bush.  He lost his election. Twice.  Many of us warned about Obama.  Twice.  But Bush wasn’t born destined to engage in extraordinary renditions.  Obama wasn’t born destined to drone-kill children on Tuesdays.  Our entire system moves in that direction.  Bush and Obama should be prosecuted and imprisoned, along with many of their colleagues — as a step toward fixing the system.  But their bodies shouldn’t be studied for clues about whom to sterilize.  Only a political culture already itself sterilized would think that was the solution.

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Future of love and sex: monogamy no longer the default, say experts

By Dick Pelletier. There’s a pervasive notion that monogamous relationships are the end-all-be-all – the default pact in human couplings that keep the fabric of society from being torn apart. But growing numbers of scientists believe monogamy is not our biological default; and may not even represent the best road to happiness.

Nearly all mammalian species demonstrate sexual promiscuity. Even mate-for-life prairie voles, the animal kingdom’s poster child of monogamous relationships produce pups from different fathers twenty percent of the time. Moreover, say historians, for humans, promiscuous behavior is not new at all.

    Anthropologists have uncovered clues to how our Paleolithic ancestors lived. Before the advent of agriculture, humans faced a short, brutal lifespan. Some survived to age 50, but most died young or at birth with average life expectancy in the 30-to-40 range.

With such a short lifespan, ancestral children were likely to experiment with sex by age six. Most couples lived in temporary relationships, and being unfaithful was common for these cave dwellers.

When our forbears found themselves in an unhappy situation, they simply walked away and found another cave. Scientists believe that hunter-gatherers had sex mostly for fun, not just to reproduce.

Rutgers University researcher Helen Fisher has written five books on the future of human sex, love, and relationships, and she believes that marriage has changed more in the last 100 years than the previous 10,000, and it could change more in the next 20 years than it did in the past 100!

David Levy, author of Love and Sex With Robots predicts that as robots become more sophisticated, growing numbers of adventurous humans will enter into intimate relationships with these intelligent ‘bots.

A robot partner would be the perfect mate, never showing boredom or being inattentive, Levy says. You will always be the focus and centerpiece of their existence and you never need worry about their being unfaithful or going astray, because loyalty and being faithful will be embedded into their programming.

Our concept of infidelity is also changing. Some married couples agree that it’s OK to have brief sexual encounters when they travel separately; others sustain long-term adulterous relationships with their spouse’ approval. Moreover, recent studies have shown that relationships like these with less pressure on ‘being faithful’ are more stress-free for both participants, leading to happier lives.

Internet dating wields its impact on relationships too. Matching people with great partners is getting so efficient, and the process so enjoyable, that marriage itself may one day become obsolete.

As we wind through the 21st Century, new relationships will challenge many of our traditions and social policies. Houston futurist Sandy Burchsted, who recently spoke at a World Future Society conference, believes that in the future, most people will marry at least four times and experience extramarital affairs with little public censure. Marriage will be considered an evolutionary process, not a one-time-only event.

It may be time to rethink monogamy, especially given the way that the world has politicized the concept of marriage. As prairie voles aren’t “pure as the driven snow,” there is also no biological evidence to suggest that human beings are naturally monogamous. We may be culturally and socially encouraged to be faithful, but it is unclear how much that sway really has over our biology.

Some believe a monogamous relationship is the best way to achieve happiness; but many experts say not so fast. Researchers found that non-monogamous relationships reported higher levels of satisfaction and intimacy, and less jealousy than experienced by monogamous pairings.

Today, we live in a sea of technologies that reshape our lives. To bond is human and drives to fall in love are embedded in our nature. With new sex and romance aids, such as Viagra and estrogen replacement, and science providing us with longer healthier lifespans, we have the opportunity to create a more fulfilling partnership than at any other time in history. Welcome to the future!


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Meat the future

In this video by Beckmans College of Design published 2 years ago, we get a great glimpse at what the future of food and meat production will look like…

Meat the future is a project that intends to inform people about todays unsustainable and inhumane meat industry. But also give hope for a change as there is a solution in sight, called In Vitro meat.

Please help us spread the word! If you would like to get in touch with us, please send an email to

This is a project by Afshin Moeini, Christian Poppius and Kim Brundin from Beckmans College of Design.


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Internet Security Is Our Responsibility

By William Sheppard
As we learn more and more details regarding government spying, it seems more and more foolhardy to trust our security to third party businesses.The state requires information on its subjects to be effective. From the first census in Egypt more than 5000 years ago, states have sought personal information on their citizens, especially in tyrannical states, where informants and secret police gather information on any and all potentially subversive activities.

In the age of the Internet and the surveillance state, spy agencies collect information on us that would make Stalin’s NKVD green with envy — much of it naively handed over via social media. When the surveillance state will be dismantled is anyone’s guess, but, in the meantime, the less useful data that can be collected on us the less effective the state’s control of us. For activists, use of private or anonymous communication in first world countries could be key to avoiding pre-emptive arrest, In places like Syria, it becomes a matter of life and death.

Initially, I had hoped companies like Google would come to the rescue by implementing powerful encryption systems; unfortunately it seems less and less likely that corporations beholden to shareholders and intertwined with government can effectively and securely create these services. While these big companies with their large profits and lobbying budgets are probably in the best position to fight back against the surveillance state, they  also have the most to lose if they don’t play along.

Ladar Levison’s Lavabit was a semi-secure email service. In August, Levison shut down Lavabit citing government threats and interference. Observers speculated that Levison had received a National Security Letter demanding customer data, likely that of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Recently unsealed court document show that a warrant was issued for the private SSL key for the Lavabit service. This key allows a secure encrypted connection between user and server. Having access to this key would give the government real time access to information being sent by users to the site. This in turn would allow them to scoop up log-in credentials and access the encrypted emails of any of Lavabit’s 400,000 customers.

Much to his credit, Ladar Levison decided to shut down Lavabit — denying access to the privately stored communications of its customers. This sort of principled stance is unexpected. Levison didn’t have shareholders to answer to. He answered to himself and his customers. We cannot expect large tech corporations like Google, who put forth the public image of being on our side and actually attempt to publicize government intrusion, to actually defy the government when compelled by law. Other players, such as Microsoft, appear to be enthusiastic in their collaboration with the NSA and other 3 letter agencies.

So what does this all mean for us? Is it all doom and gloom? No! We have to take this into our own hands. There are a multitude of free and open source projects and open standards for encryption. From what we understand, the NSA has broken encryption through coercion and subversion, not by raw attempts at bashing away at the numbers and cracking the codes. Most likely, we can still trust the mathematics.

When a project is open source its code is open to scrutiny. It can be vetted and we can know exactly how it does what it does. While the majority of us do not have the technical know-how to look through the code of a specific program to vet it before compiling it,  trusted researchers and academics can and do vet these for us. Thus we can be aware of potential vulnerabilities of encryption software and know the limits of its capabilities. When we communicate with PGP, for example, we are using an open standard. We do not need to trust our communications to a company that may have been coerced by government to compromise our privacy. With PGP, you are  in possession of your private key and no one else can be made to hand it over. The Tor project, due to its complexity, is not so clear cut. Because of its distributed nature, there are more opportunities for exploitation, but the project is open source and these potential exploits are documented so we are able to understand its limits.

The conclusions we must draw is that we are in this together. If we decide to use corporate service that claim to be secure, we must be aware that they could be compromised at any time — not through brute force, but coercive force. With closed source encryption software, there is no way to evaluate or trust the developer’s claims. When we use open source encryption software we must make ourselves aware of its limitations and use it accordingly.

Internet security is our responsibility.

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The Antispeciesist Revolution

By David Pearce

When is it ethically acceptable to harm another sentient being? On some fairly modest assumptions, to harm or kill someone simply on the grounds they belong to a different gender, sexual orientation or ethnic group is unjustified. Such distinctions are real but ethically irrelevant. On the other hand, species membership is normally reckoned an ethically relevant criterion. Fundamental to our conceptual scheme is the pre-Darwinian distinction between “humans” and “animals”.


In law, nonhuman animals share with inanimate objects the status of property. As property, nonhuman animals can be bought, sold, killed or otherwise harmed as humans see fit. In consequence, humans treat nonhuman animals in ways that would earn a life-time prison sentence without parole if our victims were human. From an evolutionary perspective, this contrast in status isn’t surprising. In our ancestral environment of adaptation, the capacity to hunt, kill and exploit sentient beings of other species was fitness-enhancing(2). Our moral intuitions have been shaped accordingly. Yet can we ethically justify such behaviour today?

Naively, one reason for disregarding the interests of nonhumans is the dimmer-switch model of consciousness. Humans matter more than nonhuman animals because (most) humans are more intelligent. Intuitively, more intelligent beings are more conscious than less intelligent beings; consciousness is the touchstone of moral status.

The problem with the dimmer-switch model is that it’s empirically unsupported among vertebrates with central nervous systems, and probably in cephalopods such as the octopus as well. Microelectrode studies of the brains of awake human subjects suggest that the most intense forms of experience, for example agony, terror and orgasmic bliss, are mediated by the limbic system, not the prefrontal cortex. Our core emotions are evolutionarily ancient and strongly conserved. Humans share the anatomical and molecular substrates of our core emotions with the nonhuman animals whom we factory-farm and kill. By contrast, distinctively human cognitive capacities such as generative syntax, or the ability to do higher mathematics, are either phenomenologically subtle or impenetrable to introspection. To be sure, genetic and epigenetic differences exist between, say, a pig and a human being that explain our adult behavioural differences, e.g. the allele of the FOXP2(1) gene implicated in the human capacity for recursive syntax. Such mutations have little to do with raw sentience(1).

So what is the alternative to traditional anthropocentric ethics? Antispeciesism is not the claim that “All Animals Are Equal”, or that all species are of equal value, or that a human or a pig is equivalent to a mosquito. Rather the antispeciesist claims that, other things being equal, equally strong interests should count equally. Experiences that are subjectively negative or positive in hedonic tone to the same degree must count for the same. And conscious beings of equivalent sentience often have equally strong interests, which (other things being equal) we must care for and respect equally – though other animals who may be less sentient can also have important interests as well. A pig, for example, is of comparable sentience to a prelinguistic human toddler. As it happens, a pig is of comparable (or superior) intelligence to a toddler as well(5). However, such cognitive prowess is ethically incidental. If ethical status is a function of sentience, then to factory-farm and slaughter a pig is as ethically abhorrent as to factory-farm and slaughter a human baby. To exploit one and nurture the other expresses an irrational but genetically adaptive prejudice.

On the face of it, this antispeciesist claim isn’t just wrong-headed; it’s absurd. Philosopher Jonathan Haidt speaks of “moral dumbfounding”(6), where we just know something is wrong but can’t articulate precisely why. Haidt offers the example of consensual incest between an adult brother and sister who use birth control. For evolutionary reasons, we “just know” such an incestuous relationship is immoral. In the case of any comparisons of pigs with human infants and toddlers, we “just know” at some deep level that any alleged equivalence in status is unfounded. After all, if there were no ethically relevant distinction between a pig and a toddler, or between a battery-farmed chicken and a human infant, then the daily behaviour of ordinary meat-eating humans would be sociopathic – which sounds crazy. In fact, unless the psychiatrists’ bible, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is modified explicitly to exclude behaviour towards nonhumans, most of us do risk satisfying its diagnostic criteria for the disorder. Even so, humans often conceive of ourselves as animal lovers. Despite the horrors of factory-farming, and in general of slaughterhouses where all farmed animals perish, most consumers of meat and animal products are clearly not sociopaths in the normal usage of the term; most factory-farm managers are not wantonly cruel; and the majority of slaughterhouse workers are not sadists who delight in suffering. Serial killers of nonhuman animals are just ordinary men doing a distasteful job – “obeying orders” – on pain of losing their livelihoods.

Should we expect anything different? Political theorist Hannah Arendt spoke famously of the “banality of evil”(7). If twenty-first century humans are collectively doing something posthuman superintelligence will reckon monstrous, a crime against sentience akin to the [human] Holocaust or Atlantic slave trade, then it’s easy to assume our moral intuitions would disclose this to us. Our intuitions don’t disclose anything of the kind; so we sleep easy. But both natural selection and the historical record offer powerful reasons for doubting the trustworthiness of our naive moral intuitions. So the possibility that human civilisation might be founded upon some monstrous evil should be taken seriously – even if the possibility seems transparently absurd at the time.

One possible speciesist response is to raise the question of “potential”. Even if a pig is as sentient as a human toddler, there is a fundamental distinction between human toddlers and pigs. Only a toddler has the potential to mature into a rational adult human being.

The problem with this response is that it contradicts our treatment of humans who lack “potential”. Thus we recognise that a toddler with a progressive disorder who will never live to celebrate his third birthday deserves at least as much love, care and respect as his normally developing peers – not to be packed off to a factory-farm on the grounds it’s a shame to let good food go to waste. We recognise a similar duty of care for mentally handicapped adult humans and cognitively frail old people. For sure, historical exceptions exist to this perceived duty of care for vulnerable humans, e.g. the Nazi “euthanasia” program, with its eugenicist conception of “life unworthy of life”. But by common consent, we value young children and cognitively challenged adults for who they are, not simply for who they may – or may not – one day become. On occasion, there may controversially be instrumental reasons for allocating more care and resources to a potential genius or exceptionally gifted child than to a normal human. Yet disproportionate intraspecies resource allocation may be justified, not because high IQ humans are more sentient, but because of the anticipated benefits to society as a whole.

Practical Implications.
1. Invitrotarianism.

The greatest source of severe, chronic and readily avoidable suffering in the world today is man-made: animal agriculture, most notably factory farming. Humans currently slaughter over fifty billion sentient beings each year. One implication of an antispeciesist ethic is that factory farms should be shut and their surviving victims rehabilitated.

In common with most ethical revolutions in history, the prospect of humanity switching to a cruelty-free diet first strikes most practically-minded folk as utopian dreaming. “Realists” certainly have plenty of hard evidence to bolster their case. As English essayist William Hazlitt observed, “The least pain in our little finger gives us more concern and uneasiness than the destruction of millions of our fellow-beings.” Without the aid of twenty-first century technology, the mass slaughter and abuse of our fellow animals might continue indefinitely. Yet tissue science technology promises to allow consumers to become moral agents without the slightest hint of personal inconvenience. Lab-grown in vitro meat produced in cell culture rather than a live animal has long been a staple of science fiction. But global veganism – or its ethical invitrotarian equivalent – is no longer a futuristic fantasy. Rapid advances in tissue engineering mean that in vitro meat will shortly be developed and commercialised. Today’s experimental cultured mincemeat can be supplanted by mass-manufactured gourmet steaks for the consumer market. Perhaps critically for its rapid public acceptance, in vitro meat does not need to be genetically modified – thereby spiking the guns of techno-luddites who might otherwise worry about “FrankenBurgers”. Indeed, cultured meat products will be more “natural” in some ways than their antibiotic-laced counterparts derived from farmed animals.

Momentum for commercialisation is growing. Non-profit research organisations like New Harvest(8), working to develop alternatives to conventionally-produced meat, have been joined by hard-headed businessmen. Visionary entrepreneur and Stanford academic Peter Thiel(9) has just funnelled $350,000 into Modern Meadow, a start-up that aims to combine 3D printing with in vitro meat cultivation. Within the next decade or so, gourmet steaks could be printed out from biological materials. In principle, the technology should be scalable. While work on in vitro meat continues, rapid advances are being made in the development of so-called plant meats. Beyond Meat(10), for example, has already brought to market the first plant-based meat with a texture almost identical to chicken flesh.

Tragically, billions of nonhuman animals will atrociously suffer and die this century at human hands before the dietary transition is complete. Humans are not obligate carnivores; eating meat and animal products is a lifestyle choice. “But I like the taste!” is not a morally compelling argument. Vegans and animal advocates ask whether we are ethically entitled to wait on a technological fix. The antispeciesist answer is clear: no.

2. Compassionate Biology.
If and when humans stop systematically harming other sentient beings, will our ethical duties to members of other species have been discharged? Not if the same ethical considerations as apply to members of other human races or age-groups apply also to members of other species of equivalent sentience. Thus if famine breaks out in sub-Saharan Africa and young human children are starving, then we recognise we have a duty to send aid; or better still, to take proactive to measures to ensure famines do not arise in the first instance, i.e. to provide not just food aid but family planning. So why not assist, say, starving free-living elephants? Until recently, no comparable interventions were feasible for members of other species. The technical challenges were insurmountable. Not least, the absence of cross-species fertility control technologies would have often made bad problems worse. Yet thanks to the exponential growth of computer power, every cubic metre of the planet will shortly be computationally accessible to micro-management, surveillance and control. Harnessed to biotechnology, nanotechnology and robotics, such tools confer unprecedented power over Nature. With unbridled power comes complicity. Ethically speaking, how many of the traditional cruelties of the living world do we wish to perpetuate? Orthodox conservation biologists argue we should not “interfere”: humans can’t “police” Nature. Antispeciesists disagree. Advocates of compassionate biology argue that humans and nonhumans alike should not be parasitised, starved, disembowelled, asphyxiated, or eaten alive.

As always, bioconservatives insist such miseries are “natural”; status quo bias runs deep. “”Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity””, observed George Bernard Shaw. Snuff movies in the guise of Nature documentaries are quite popular on Youtube, a counterpoint to the Disneyfied wildlife shows aired on mainstream TV. Moreover even sympathetic critics of compassionate biology might respond that helping free-living members of other species is prohibitively expensive. An adequate welfare safety-net scarcely exists for humans in many parts of the world. So how can we contemplate its extension to nonhumans – even just to large-brained, long-lived vertebrates in our Nature reserves? Provision of comprehensive healthcare for all free-living elephants(11), for example, might cost between two or three billion dollars annually. Compassionate stewardship of the living world would be technically daunting too, entailing ecosystem management, cross-species fertility control via immunocontraception, veterinary care, emergency famine-relief, GPS tracking and monitoring, and ultimately phasing out or genetically “reprogramming”(12) carnivorous predators. The notional bill could approach the world’s 1.7 trillion-dollar annual arms budget. But irrespective of cost or timescale, if we are to be consistently non-speciesist, then decisions about resource allocation should be based not on species membership, but directly or indirectly on sentience. An elephant, for example, is at least as sentient as a human toddler – and may well be as sentient if not sapient as adult humans. If it is ethically obligatory to help sick or starving children, then it’s ethically obligatory to help sick or starving elephants – not just via crisis interventions but via long-term healthcare support.

A traditional conservation biologist might respond that elephants helped by humans are no longer truly wild. Yet on such a criterion, clothes-wearing humans or beneficiaries of food aid and family planning aren’t “wild” humans either. Why should this matter? “Free-living” and “wild” are conceptually distinct. To assume that the civilising process should be confined to our own species is mere speciesist prejudice. Humans, transhumans and posthumans must choose what forms of sentience we want to preserve and create on Earth and beyond. Humans already massively intervene in Nature, whether though habitat destruction, captive breeding programs for big cats, “rewilding”, etc. So the question is not whether humans should “interfere”, but rather what ethical principles should govern our interventions(13).

Speciesism and Superintelligence.
Why should transhumanists care about the suffering of nonhuman animals? This is not a “feel-good” issue. One reason we should care cuts to the heart of the future of life in the universe. Transhumanists differ over whether our posthuman successors will most likely be nonbiological artificial superintelligence; or cyborgs who effectively merge with our hyperintelligent machines; or our own recursively self-improving biological descendents who modify their own genetic source code and bootstrap their way to full-spectrum superintelligence(14). Regardless of the dominant lifeform of the posthuman era, biological humans have a vested interest in the behaviour of intellectually advanced beings towards cognitively humble creatures – if we survive at all. Compared to posthuman superintelligence, archaic humans may be no smarter than pigs or chickens – or perhaps worms. This does not augur well for Homo sapiens. Western-educated humans tend to view Jains as faintly ridiculous for practising ahimsa, or harmlessness, sweeping the ground in front of them to avoid inadvertently treading on insects. How quixotic! Yet the fate of sentient but cognitively humble lifeforms in relation to vastly superior intelligence is precisely the issue at stake as we confront the prospect of posthuman superintelligence. How can we ensure a Jain-like concern for comparatively simple-minded creatures such as ourselves? Why should superintelligences care any more than humans about the well-being of their intellectual inferiors? Might distinctively human-friendly superintelligence turn out to be as intellectually-incoherent as, say, Aryan-friendly superintelligence? If human primitives are to prove worthy of conservation, how can we implement technologies of impartial friendliness towards other sentients? And if posthumans do care, how do we know that a truly benevolent superintelligence wouldn’t turn Darwinian life into utilitronium with a communal hug?

Viewed in such a light, biological humanity’s prospects in a future world of superintelligence might seem dire. However, this worry expresses a one-dimensional conception of general intelligence. No doubt the nature of mature superintelligence is humanly unknowable. But presumably full-spectrum(15) superintelligence entails, at the very least, a capacity to investigate, understand and manipulate both the formal and the subjective properties of mind. Modern science aspires to an idealised “view from nowhere”(16), an impartial, God-like understanding of the natural universe, stripped of any bias in perspective and expressed in the language of mathematical physics. By the same token, a God-like superintelligence must also be endowed with the capacity impartially to grasp all possible first-person perspectives – not a partial and primitive Machiavellian cunning of the kind adaptive on the African savannah, but an unimaginably radical expansion of our own fitfully growing circle of empathy.

What such superhuman perspective-taking ability might entail is unclear. We are familiar with people who display abnormally advanced forms of “mind-blind”(17), autistic intelligence in higher mathematics and theoretical physics. Less well known are hyper-empathisers who display unusually sophisticated social intelligence. Perhaps the most advanced naturally occurring hyper-empathisers exhibit mirror-touch synaesthesia(18). A mirror-touch synaesthete cannot be unfriendly towards you because she feels your pain and pleasure as if it were her own. In principle, such unusual perspective-taking capacity could be generalised and extended with reciprocal neuroscanning technology and telemetry into a kind of naturalised telepathy, both between and within species. Interpersonal and cross-species mind-reading could in theory break down hitherto invincible barriers of ignorance between different skull-bound subjects of experience, thereby eroding the anthropocentric, ethnocentric and egocentric bias that has plagued life on Earth to date. Today, the intelligence-testing community tends to treat facility at empathetic understanding as if it were a mere personality variable, or at best some sort of second-rate cognition for people who can’t do IQ tests. But “mind-reading” can be a highly sophisticated, cognitively demanding ability. Compare, say, the sixth-order intentionality manifested by Shakespeare. In Othello, for example, Shakespeare intends his audience believe that Iago intends that Othello imagines that Desdemona is in love with Cassio and that Cassio reciprocates Desdemona’s amorous feelings(19). Thus we shouldn’t conceive superintelligence as akin to God imagined by someone with autistic spectrum disorder. Rather full-spectrum superintelligence entails a God’s-eye capacity to understand the rich multi-faceted first-person perspectives of diverse lifeforms whose mind-spaces humans would find incomprehensibly alien.

An obvious objection arises. Just because ultra-intelligent posthumans may be capable of displaying empathetic superintelligence, how do we know such intelligence will be exercised? The short answer is that we don’t: by analogy, today’s mirror-touch synaesthetes might one day neurosurgically opt to become mind-blind. But then equally we don’t know whether posthumans will renounce their advanced logico-mathematical prowess in favour of the functional equivalent of wireheading. If they do so, then they won’t be superintelligent. The existence of diverse first-person perspectives is a fundamental feature of the natural world, as fundamental as the second law of thermodynamics or the Higgs boson. To be ignorant of fundamental features of the world is to be an idiot savant: a super-Watson(20) perhaps, but not a superintelligence(21).

High-Tech Jainism?
Jules Renard once remarked, “I don’t know if God exists, but it would be better for His reputation if He didn’t.” God’s conspicuous absence from the natural world needn’t deter us from asking what an omniscient, omnipotent, all-merciful deity would want humans to do with our imminent God-like powers. For we’re on the brink of a momentous evolutionary transition in the history of life on Earth. Physicist Freeman Dyson predicts we’ll soon “be writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses”(22). The ethical risks and opportunities for apprentice deities are huge.

On the one hand, Karl Popper warns, “Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell”(23). Twentieth-century history bears out such pessimism. Yet for billions of sentient beings from less powerful species, existing life on Earth is hell. They end their miserable lives on our dinner plates: “for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka”, writes Jewish Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer(24).

In a more utopian vein, some utterly sublime scenarios are technically feasible later this century and beyond. It’s not clear whether experience below Sidgwick’s(25) “hedonic zero” has any long-term future. Thanks to molecular neuroscience, mastery of the brain’s reward circuitry could make everyday life wonderful beyond the bounds of normal human experience. There is no technical reason why the pitiless Darwinian struggle of the past half billion years can’t be replaced by an earthly paradise for all creatures great and small. Genetic engineering could allow “the lion to lie down with the lamb.” Enhancement technologies could transform killer apes into saintly smart angels. Biotechnology could abolish suffering throughout the living world. Artificial intelligence could secure the well-being of all sentience in our forward light-cone. Our quasi-immortal descendants may be animated by gradients of intelligent bliss orders of magnitude richer than anything physiologically feasible today.

Such fantastical-sounding scenarios may never come to pass. Yet if so, this won’t be because the technical challenges prove too daunting, but because intelligent agents choose to forgo the molecular keys to paradise for something else. Critically, the substrates of bliss don’t need to be species-specific or rationed. Transhumanists believe the well-being of all sentience(26) is the bedrock of any civilisation worthy of the name.


1. How modest? A venerable tradition in philosophical meta-ethics is anti-realism. The meta-ethical anti-realist proposes that claims such as it’s wrong to rape women, kill Jews, torture babies (etc) lack truth value – or are simply false. (cf. JL Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, Viking Press, 1977.) Here I shall assume that, for reasons we simply don’t understand, the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world’s inbuilt metric of (dis)value. Meta-ethical anti-realists may instead wish to interpret this critique of speciesism merely as casting doubt on its internal coherence rather than a substantive claim that a non-speciesist ethic is objectively true.

2. Extreme violence towards members of other tribes and races can be fitness-enhancing too. See, e.g. Richard Wrangham & Dale Peterson, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

3. Fisher SE, Scharff C (2009). “FOXP2 as a molecular window into speech and language”. Trends Genet. 25 (4): 166–77. doi:10.1016/j.tig.2009.03.002. PMID 19304338.

4. Interpersonal and interspecies comparisons of sentience are of course fraught with problems. Comparative studies of how hard a human or nonhuman animal will work to avoid or obtain a particular stimulus give one crude behavioural indication. Yet we can go right down to the genetic and molecular level, e.g. interspecies comparisons of SCN9A genotype. (cf. We know that in humans the SCN9A gene modulates pain-sensitivity. Some alleles of SCN9A give rise to hypoalgesia, others alleles to hyperalgesia. Nonsense mutations yield congenital insensitivity to pain. So we could systematically compare the SCN9A gene and its homologues in nonhuman animals. Neocortical chauvinists will still be sceptical of non-mammalian sentience, pointing to the extensive role of cortical processing in higher vertebrates. But recall how neuroscanning techniques reveal that during orgasm, for example, much of the neocortex effectively shuts down. Intensity of experience is scarcely diminished.

5. Held S, Mendl M, Devereux C, and Byrne RW. 2001. “Studies in social cognition: from primates to pigs”. Animal Welfare 10:S209-17.

6. Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Pantheon Books, 2012.

7. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Viking Press, 1963.


9. “PayPal Founder Backs Synthetic Meat Printing Company”, Wired, August 16 2012.

10. Beyond Meat:



13. The scholarly literature on the problem of wild animal suffering is still sparse. But perhaps see Arne Naess, “Should We Try To Relieve Clear Cases of Suffering in Nature?”, published in The Selected Works of Arne Naess, Springer, 2005; Oscar Horta, “The Ethics of the Ecology of Fear against the Nonspeciesist Paradigm: A Shift in the Aims of Intervention in Nature”, Between the Species, Issue X, August 2010. ; Brian Tomasik, “The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering”, ; and the first print-published plea for phasing out carnivorism in Nature, Jeff McMahan’s “The Meat Eaters”, The New York Times. September 19, 2010.

14. Singularity Hypotheses, A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment, Eden, A.H.; Moor, J.H.; Søraker, J.H.; Steinhart, E. (Eds) Spinger 2013.

15. David Pearce, The Biointelligence Explosion. (preprint), 2012.

16. Thomas Nagel, The View From Nowhere , OUP, 1989.

17. Simon Baron-Cohen (2009). “Autism: the empathizing–systemizing (E-S) theory” (PDF). Ann N Y Acad Sci 1156: 68–80. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04467.x. PMID 19338503.

18. Banissy, M. J. & Ward, J. (2007). Mirror-touch synesthesia is linked with empathy. Nature Neurosci. doi: 10.1038/nn1926.

19. see “The Social Brain Hypothesis and its Relevance To Cognitive Psychology by R.I.M. Dunbar, published in Evolution and the Social Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and Social Cognition, Forgas, J.P; Haselton, M. G.; von Hippel, W. (Eds) Psychology Press 2007.

20. Stephen Baker. Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011.

21. Orthogonality or convergence? For an alternative to the convergence thesis, see Nick Bostrom, “The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents”, 2012,; and Eliezer Yudkowsky, Carl Shulman, Anna Salamon, Rolf Nelson, Steven Kaas, Steve Rayhawk, Zack Davis, and Tom McCabe. “Reducing Long-Term Catastrophic Risks from Artificial Intelligence”, 2010.

22. Freeman Dyson, “When Science & Poetry Were Friends”, New York Review of Books, August 13, 2009.

23. As quoted in Jon Winokur, In Passing: Condolences and Complaints on Death, Dying, and Related Disappointments, Sasquatch Books, 2005.

24. Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Letter Writer, 1964.

25. Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics. London, 1874, 7th ed. 1907.

26. The Transhumanist Declaration (1998, 2009).    

U.S. plan to give some higher consciousness species personhood rights: Personhood Beyond the Human Conference

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Abolition is Imperative in Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch Scenario

By Jønathan Lyons

Consider the Abolition Society, the Abolitionists Against Suffering group on facebook, and the philosophy of Dr. David Pearce, who is “a British utilitarian philosopher and transhumanist, who promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life.

His internet manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative details how he believes the abolition of suffering can be accomplished through ‘paradise engineering.’ He co-founded the World Transhumanist Association in 1998, and the Abolitionist Society in 2002.”

He discusses and takes questions on Abolition philosophy here:

When I first encountered Pearce’s Abolition philosophy, I was fascinated. But, as happens more often than I’d like with Big Ideas in philosophy, the sheer scope and audacity of Abolition philosophy was at first difficult for me to process credibly. I mean, really? Paradise engineering? Re-engineer all life to eliminate unnecessary suffering?!

As a fellow vegan, Pearce walks the walk on minimizing the suffering and costs his actions — and his diet — demand from the world. That gave me another reason to consider his positions, particularly as a transhumanist myself. If one wishes to pursue the abolition of unnecessary suffering, veganism is a powerful place to begin in the here and now.

(The IEET is currently conducting a poll on the dietary attitudes and practices of its readership. An earlier such poll found that a whopping 12.31% of respondents described themselves as vegan. Wikipedia cites ( varying numbers from different sources, generally between about .5% and 3%.)

Consider the seventh point on the Transhumanist Declaration:

“We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise.”

This was updated slightly in’s Transhumanist Declaration 2.0, penned by Dirk Bruere, to include Pearce’s Abolition specifically:

“We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise. This is to be seen as a consequence of the adoption of Abolitionism, defined by philosopher David Pearce, as our core ethic.”

Indeed, in the Singularity 1-on-1 interview with Zero State founder Amon Kalkin, he also advocate ending unwanted suffering as part of Zero State’s mission. Zero State is an online, grassroots community which advocates “the establishment of a trans-national, virtual state — the Zero State.”

The transhumanist community embraces the basic principle of eliminating unnecessary/unwanted suffering, however varying the degrees. (And whoever determines what “necessary” suffering is, at that.)

Then I began considering Ray Kurzweil’s Six Epochs.

If we are indeed on course toward his predicted Sixth Epoch, when What We Become could begin to appropriate and put to use all resources it encounters in the universe in a quest to bring about the waking up of said universe, then we had better have Abolitionist philosophy as one of our core guiding principles. Otherwise, What We Become would likely be no less heartless than, say, Star Trek‘s the Borg: A marauding technological maw, consuming all that it encounters that it deems useful, never sated, never pausing to consider the desires of individual beings.

The Sixth Epoch scenario seems to lack specifics on what becomes of Luddites, religious outliers who eschew technologies, and those who just plain don’t want to become part of that project. (But perhaps that has to do with the difficulties of seeing past a technological Singularity.)

In fact, in a Sixth Epoch scenario, that grisly bloodbath would most likely begin here, on an unthinkable scale, resulting in the slaughter, repurposing, or extinction of virtually every living creature on Earth.

But if we transhumanists cement Abolition as a core, foundational part of our overall philosophy, then What We Become will be much better prepared to avoid the whole gruesome affair. We will have installed part of the philosophy futuristic beings will require to avoid forcing all of humankind, and all life on the planet, to become a part of the overall project, willing or not; and should be able, as a core portion of What We Become’s mission, to leave the choice of whether to become part of it up to each individual. Individual choice could still become an important part of What We Become’s quest to fulfill the forecast of the Sixth Epoch — assuming such a scenario ever comes even partly true. It will give What We Become a shot at not simply ignoring the wills and wishes of other beings, and may just leave behind a paradise engineered for those who wish to be part of such a creation, as What We Become branches out into the universe.

I know that this essay, teleological in nature, leaves aside important questions, such as:

  • Is Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch vision a good thing? Is such a telos a worthy one?
  • Can paradise engineering — or any form of uplift of nonhuman animals — ever ascertain consent from nonhuman animals? Is paradise engineering a worthy telos?

I’m thinking about these questions, and I look forward to hearing and reading others’ thoughts on them.

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How can Workers of the World Really Unite?

by Kris Notaro

Social Darwinism, Ayn Rand’s objectivism, capitalism and eugenics are all catastrophes of human thought: How to create a federation of anarchist-socialist / anarchist-syndicalist workers. Warning: This is a techno-optimist and “politically”-positive article.

Workers of the world will unite, I hypothesize under several conditions.

A. Enhancement and “upgrading” brain/mind under the current system is available to everyone.

B. Unconscious robots replace human labor.

C. Current brain/mind renders capitalism as destructive, useless, and corrupt while embracing future technology and science.

D. A mix of the above happens before the wealthy upper class gets their hands on powerful brain/mind enhancements.

A diverse anarchist federation where technology (almost instantly) collects votes from informed, educated, healthy communities so that the “government” is the vote, and the ‘minds’ ‘who’ keep it going are simply robots, supercomputers and/or anarchist computer technicians. The vote would be as consensus like as possible abiding by traditional anarchist ideals. They would be collected on the supercomputers, hourly, daily, weekly, etc, and output immediately, perhaps after being run through a kind of ethical theory algorithm(s) before being presented to the conscious minds of the world.

Robots will replace human labor, leading to types of structural unemployment. Under this condition the robots must NOT be “conscious” not even as conscious as a mouse, or a worm. They have to be completely run by unconscious computer algorithms. If they are even conscious at the level of a mouse there will be protests for their liberation, leaving a post-work society to give up on robots bit by bit all around the world.

The federation of anarchist-socialist workers in a human-working society can have a number assigned to them very much like that of the numbers and letters assigned to every Ethernet/Network card on the planet, simply for voting purposes.

This will allow the rational human-working being to vote for such and such on the local to global level. However this is assuming a post-capitalist society, post-religion, and the lack of hackers and old government trying to hack the anarchist system of voting to implement capitalism again.

Power corrupts most people, historically, therefore the computer technicians (if needed) that run the the consensus worldwide voting system must be elected by the people and any corruption must be delt with. However, if we actually have this scenario play out, the workers of the world would be “brain/mind enhanced”. The likelihood of an enhanced conscious mind beyond the human to be corrupted enough to believe in the catastrophe known as capitalism, in my opinion, would be slim.

The techno-optimist and political-positive outlook on upgraded brains/minds assumes that A. We will live in a post-capitalist world. B. Everyone in the world who wants to be “upgraded” can be. C. After the upgrade, without anything but more knowledge and awareness of that knowledge leads the worker to accept anarchist-socialism out of awareness that this kind of social “structure” makes the most sense given the historical implications of other “ideologies”.

This does indeed assume that with a brain/mind upgrade people get the same kind of knowledge of political theory as everyone else. If education is the key to unlock the potential of mind, why not take an upgrade? Because this is in the anarchist context, the upgrade itself would not force the critical thinking brain to accept anarchist-socialism as fact, but a concept to consider. If it is the case, and I believe it is, that the upgraded mind will accept anarchist-socialism as the ultimate “structure” of society, then after thinking about their upgrade, they will indeed accept it.

If upgraded critical thinking leads to a new kind of social structure outside the realm of anarchism then so be it, however, that “structure” would most likely reject top down political power. In my opinion it will be, if different from what we know now, very close to anarchism, which was in the spotlight of political theory hundreds of years ago during the Enlightenment, the Spanish civil-war, the modern day globalization movement, and recently the Occupy movement to name a few.

Another likely condition is the lack of work because robots have replaced human-labor. In this case, we must have a guaranteed “income”: housing, healthcare, education, access to resources, etc. The anarchist-technoprogressive stance would be that EVERYONE who is replaced by an unconscious robot is given the resources for an anarchist-socialist society. Can science figure this out? Can an unconscious supercomputer figure out how to use the resources of the earth to have unconscious robots replace our labor, upgrade the human mind, and give people a life of happiness instead of wage slavery and the “race to the bottom” under capitalism?

In conclusion I feel that all these positive anarchist-socialist scenarios should happen, but we must have the technology to fix the ecosystem if the current ecosystem is indeed the best system for future life, etc – we can’t live in a dystopian junk yard. I hope that people accept the upgrade, and I also hope that before we get to upgrading brains via computer, nanotechnology, and biotechnology that we can agree that the ultimate way to “structure” society is indeed anarchist-socialism.

The acceptance of anarchist-socialism under the human condition would eradicate any need for a “vanguard party”, dictatorship, or a war to destroy capitalism. We must create a future where the rich do not enhance and upgrade their minds before the working class.

This, in my view, that of the rich enhancing their minds before the working class can lead to un-fairness if they use the upgrade, extra memory, and awareness to their benefit – only making the “1%” that much more powerful.

Enhancing the mind, upgrading brains, and replacing labor with unconscious robots will happen, but how, and in which social order? It is up to you!

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No Dystopian Future For Me!

By Kris Notaro: How can we save our planet, ourselves, and increase the quality of life world wide?

The new Total Recall movie is centered around a grim outlook of the future. It takes place in a metropolis – over populated, affected by global warming, under a totalitarian State, after World War 3. This sci-fi picture of the world takes place at the end of the 21st Century where the “United Federation of Britain” and the “Colony” are at war.

The only interesting things about the dystopian city is the use of anti-gravity and what seems to be magnetics in various technologies such as transportation and elevators. The use of a robot army is also, of course interesting to say the least.

I am not writing a review of the movie however, instead I want to focus on some concepts that have come into play in several dystopian movies recently. Some major taken-for-granted issues is that there will be overpopulation, a smoggish underworld, and an acceptance that global warming has melted the icecaps and all of Al Gores predictions have come true.

Indeed, we are living during a time in which the above dystopian future seems inevitable – the U.S. uses drones, though not autonomous (yet) in war (the DOD and DARPA have many more ideas for future robot warfare) the icecaps are indeed melting from global warming and population continues to skyrocket.

We do have many alternatives however, and this is where I want to take a brief look at the future in a Utopian fashion instead of dystopian. The above image, in reality cannot become true everywhere. If we take the picture on the left we see trees and a dirt road, where the picture on the right (from Total Recall 2012) shows a city after global warming, in a totalitarian State, with overpopulation, etc. Both realities are unattainable and/or catastrophic in nature to humans and posthumans.

In reality we live somewhere in the middle of each image, and the future just might, if we do it right, combine the beautiful image of a biological future mixed with a metal and concrete technological one. In academia, government, and the private sector we see many examples of people trying to save this world.

In China we see the population increasing, but we also see the government working on improving higher education and living standards for college educated youth. If the trend continues we should see more educated people whom, world wide, tend to have less children, not to mention China’s one child policy. These factors should lead to the actual decrease in the population of China by 2030.

In India, we continue to see the population rise, a clear difference between the education of women and men, men having higher education, and poverty scattered throughout the country. The people of India have to take it upon themselves to see that they are educated and not rely on the current government or on the private sector. Three examples that seem somewhat promising is the outlawing of child labor by the ILO and India’s government (cough!), distance learning, and semi “progressive” political groups fighting for womens rights, worker’s rights and against the caste system. Again, in a fair world the only thing that makes sense to me is the increase in education and prosperity to lead to a better tomorrow for India where population is concerned.

However if the solution to overpopulation is prosperity and education, one huge concern is that people will want more stuff. Simply put, more stuff tends to equal more green house emissions. If we want the world to patch up the ozone layer, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and fix the emergent complex system known as the ecosystem we will have to use radical new technology. Supertrees are currently being genetically engineered for the use of lumber and replacement of our shameful destruction of forests. Garbage eating nanotechnology, including genetically engineered bacteria are being designed as I write this. New “green” technologies are on the rise, and with a simple Googling, you can find Time Mag’s list of the top 20 green tech ideas, including Recycling e-Waste, Algae Biofuel, Algae food, Thin-film Solar, Molten Salt Storage, Solar Tower, Custom Biofuels, Electric Cars, Smart Meters, Lithium-ion Batteries, Fuel Cells, Rooftop Wind Power, Tidal Power, Green IT, Green Concrete, Green Building Materials, Modular Nuclear Power, Artificial Photosynthesis, Waste to Energy and “Biochar”.

We have to decrease carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, and fluorinated gases through public policy, education, and technological advances like the ones mentioned above, various new concepts to increase rain, because rain does not have salt in it, and if it can be increased over the arctic ocean, some scientists believe it will increase ice, but we have to figure out exactly how to make it rain where it is supposed to rain, a challenge of mega proportions but one in which academic and private sector scientists are ready to take on. Geoengineering may just be the future of saving our ecosystem from catastrophic climate change. Summits have been hosted, scientists have come up with answers, and if a Manhattan Project style of organizing becomes a reality to come up with positive geoengineering we just might beat global warming.

The dystopian future of Total Recall also involved a resistance to totalitarianism, which is very important to say the least. Working people need to get organized and educated so that they can have a leading voice in a direct democracy technoprogressive future to push scientists towards the right kind of life saving, ecosystem fixing science. As long as “the rise of the machines” is not a reality, as long as computers are not conscious, we are going to have to rely on ourselves to come together and save the ecosystem. Instead of modeling nuclear blasts on supercomputers we need to model the ecosystem and take appropriate action, etc.

I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want to live in a totalitarian, overpopulated, icecap and tree depleted future. Human, posthuman life is not just about existing and quantity of lifespan, it is most definitely also about quality.


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Transhumanism contains the essence of the revolutionary spirit

By Summerspeaker

Drawing on Marx, I define the revolutionary spirit as the belief that we can and should radically transform the world for the better. It spurns compromise and necessary evils, opting instead for creative solutions and consistent morality. It ever struggles against restraints and limitations. The revolutionary saves both the spider and the butterfly or dies in the attempt. “We’ll have both equality and plenty,” say the communists. “We’ll have both freedom and order,” say the anarchists. “We have both longevity and happiness,” say the transhumanists. This mindset motivated Ricardo Flores Magón to dream of a Mexico without the state, bourgeoisie, or clergy. It caused Howard Scott to struggle for an economy of equally distributed abundance and Shulamith Firestone to advocate cybernetic communism. The same impulse drives Eliezer Yudkowsky to push problem-solving superintelligence and Aubrey de Grey to stump for the defeat of aging.

This spirit is not universal within the movement but it is prominent and important. Internally, it stands beside millennialist notions of utopia unfolding from historical processes regardless of our involvement. Externally, it contrasts with the reformist and conservative positions, which argue dramatic change to be impossible, undesirable, far off, or some combination of the three. Transhumanism contributes to the revolutionary discourse by expanding the conceptual territory subject to transformation. In the sense that anarchism addresses social relationships, communism the economy, and feminism the home and family, transhumanism looks to the body and mind as sites for improvement. Additionally, it encourages ambitious scientific investigation specifically targeted to enable transformation. Optimistic futurism sets no boundaries beyond the known laws of physics, which themselves are written in clay rather than stone.

While I favor revolution over reformism in the abstract and thus have a natural affinity for the movement, radical change can be employed by most any value system. My assessment of transhumanism in this respect by no means implies an endorsement of the goals and methods of current leading figures. Moreover, the whole transformative project lends itself to the traps of hubris and self-righteousness. Any would-be revolutionary need proceed with circumspection and caution. Yet, with those dangers in mind, I perceive vast potential in synthesis between the technological and political visionaries. Our stated core values overlap more than not. At present, the transhumanist program exists at grave risk of enshrining in diamond the oppressions of het white male supremacy and economic inequality.

Together, we just might have chance. Our shared commitment to making things better from the roots and denying all but the most adamant of limitations will unite us. The odds of successful transformation may be small, but I guarantee they are smaller still if you discard the possibility.

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